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Home Start’s mission to prevent child abuse

Posted: April 14th, 2017 | Features, News, Top Stories | No Comments

By Jeff Clemetson

Home Start CEO Laura Tancredi-Baese has lots of success stories about how the 45-year-old nonprofit has helped families throughout San Diego County — stories like this one:

“I’m here one night, it’s like 7 o’clock, I’m working on a report and Liz the therapist comes to my door and says, ‘There is somebody here that wants to talk to you.’ I come to out the door and there is a young mother with a cutie 4-year-old son and she’s holding her graduation certificate in her hand. She said, ‘I needed to tell somebody else thank you. I just finished six months in therapy with Liz and it changed my life and changed my son’s life.’”

Home Start CEO Laura Tancredi-Baese stands in front of the nonprofit’s headquarters in Mission Valley. (Photo by Jeff Clemetson)

Tancredi-Baese said the boy’s father abused the woman until she left him when the boy was 9 months old. The experience left her traumatized and unable to adapt to life as a parent, and her son grew up with behavioral issues. But with evidence-based therapy, she was able to turn her life around and become a better mother.

Home Start, which is headquartered on Texas Street in Mission Valley, began 45 years ago as one of 16 demonstration projects related to Head Start, the national preschool program for low-income children.

“We knew Head Start was making a difference with low-income children by giving them an opportunity to have preschool and learn and grow,” Tancredi-Baese said. “What if we also went into the homes and worked with the parents and worked with the families and taught them parenting skills, parenting education and taught them about child development, those kinds of important things, what would happen?”

What happened is the program showed that working with parents proved to have even stronger results, so in 1977, Home Start was born as its own nonprofit, with a mission to prevent child abuse and strengthen families. It now boasts of a 90 percent success rate in getting parents on track and keep the family together.

Home Start programs offer services ranging from mental health — like the program that helped the traumatized mother — to helping families in at-risk categories such as immigrant, military, teenage and low-income. But whether the family is in need of mental health services for trauma or parenting education, home visitation is a core service of Home Start.

“Going in the home helps remove a lot of barriers, especially for lower income families with fewer resources,” Tancredi-Baese said. “Going in the home you get out of the way the barriers of transportation and all those other things.”

In addition to parenting education, some of the other services Home Start offers include tax preparation, job-seeking help and signing up families for health insurance through Covered California.

“Of course, that’s all up in the air now with what’s going on with the Affordable Care Act, but nevertheless, if you don’t have insurance, it can lead to neglect,” Tancredi-Baese said.

The thrift boutique

Home Start’s newest program is a thrift boutique located in Normal Heights, which opened two years ago as a “social enterprise,” Tancredi-Baese said. The idea was born from another Home Start program — a maternity shelter for young mothers who are unstably housed.

“I started the maternity shelter program to meet the needs of a particularly vulnerable population, which is transition-age young women, 18 to 24, who are either pregnant or parenting, and either homeless or on the verge of becoming homeless.”

The maternity shelter program started with a small grant and now has three apartment buildings with 27 total beds, housing 35 children. The third and latest building is the thrift boutique, which has a couple of apartments in the back, Tancredi-Baese said.

The Home Start Thrift Boutique in Normal Heights offers jobs and experience to mothers in the group’s maternity housing program. (Photo by Jeff Clemetson)

The idea to open a business came from a peer counselor who was graduating from the program and told Tancredi-Baese that the toughest part of turning her life around was finding employment.

“A lot of the young women who come into the program have been homeless or on the verge of being homeless,” Tancredi-Baese said. “Less than 50 percent of them have graduated high school and many of them have very spotty work history, so finding employment was a key challenge.”

Currently, the boutique employs one Home Start staff member, six women who are in the program and more who are volunteers looking to get their feet wet in retail work.

One of the women in the program is Lindsay, who grew up in the foster-care system and was kicked out of her adopted mother’s home when she was 18 and pregnant. Lindsay started as a volunteer; then working in the back, tagging clothes. Then she moved up to the front and became a cashier and sales associate.

“She just became this outgoing, lovely person at our boutique. We promoted her just a few months ago as our lead sales associate,” Tancredi-Baese said.

Child Abuse Prevention Month

April is Child Abuse Prevention Month and Tancredi-Baese said it is an important time to remind people of the signs of abuse and to know what to do when they see it.

“We know that there are at least 70,000 calls that come into the child abuse hotline in San Diego every year,” she said. “And we know that is probably just the tip of the iceberg of what is really going on.”

Most calls come from mandated reporters like social workers, teachers and nurses, but neighbors, other parents or even strangers can also help report abuse.

“Anybody can notice things and we all have a role in keeping our children safe,” she said.

Some of the things to look for include:

  • Signs of physical abuse like unexplained bruises, marks, and cigarette burns.
  • Signs of neglect such as children wearing the same clothing day after day, bad hygiene, hunger or not wanting to go home.
  • signs of sexual abuse like unusual interest in sexual issues for their age or using advanced language about sex.

Fortunately, most of the cases Home Start deals with are those where child welfare services see hope for the family to stay together.

“It’s a very solid program,” Tancredi-Baese said. “The vast majority of these families are succeeding and the children are in a safe and more nurturing home by the end of the services we’re providing.”

Blue Ribbon Gala

Every April, for Child Abuse Prevention Month, Home Start hosts its main fundraising event, the Blue Ribbon Gala. This year’s event will be held April 22 at the Hilton San Diego Resort and Spa in Mission Bay Park.

The theme for the evening is “vintage circus” and the event will feature circus entertainment, cocktails, a silent auction, gourmet dinner, live music and dancing. Patrons are requested to dress in vintage or traditional cocktail attire.

Tickets are $250 for general seating and $350 for VIP seating, which includes valet parking. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit home-start.org/gala.

—Reach Jeff Clemetson at jeff@sdcnn.com.

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